The Miami Heat have done everything they needed to do to claim home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, set single-season franchise records and can even scout their first-round opponent, the Milwaukee Bucks.
The last thing they need to do is stay healthy for their final two games, so a makeshift lineup is likely Monday night when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Miami's latest high mark in a season full of them came Sunday with its 105-93 victory over Chicago. The Heat (66-14) set a franchise mark with their 36th home win and further extended their team record for overall victories in a single season. They will be the top seed in the East playoffs next weekend when their bid to repeat as NBA champions starts with a best-of-seven series against the Bucks.
LeBron James, who said he was "leaning toward" not playing against his former team Monday, already had a stellar effort in Cleveland further tormenting his former fan base on March 20. He totaled 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists as Miami rallied from a 27-point third-quarter deficit for a 98-95 victory as part of its 27-game win streak.
That game also had a bizarre sequence in which a fan rushed onto the court during the fourth quarter in a bid to appeal to James to return to Cleveland when he is eligible for free agency in 2014. James, who patted the fan on the head before he was taken by security, noted the fan "said he missed me and come back, please.''
Resting James, who is among the league leaders in minutes played, also has taken on a new dimension following the season-ending Achilles injury to Lakers star Kobe Bryant. James, though, insists he doesn't worry about such an injury any time he takes the court.
"The opportunity is there," he said. "There's going to be a time when you can't play the game at all because Father Time has caught up with you. So you've got to try to do as much as you can while you can.''
Given the physical nature of Sunday's win - Heat players were fouled 30 times - it wouldn't be surprising if some of the regulars join James on the bench for this contest.
Cleveland (24-56) is quite familiar with playing short-handed - Anderson Varejao has been sidelined most of the season while rookie Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving have missed significant chunks of time due to injuries - and is hoping to finish up its season on a positive note. The Cavaliers, though, have dropped four straight and 14 of 16 following their 91-77 defeat at Philadelphia on Sunday.
Tristan Thompson had 12 points and 12 rebounds as Cleveland shot 36.5 percent and committed 18 turnovers as they essentially played their way out of the game in the first quarter while getting outscored 32-19.
"Lack of effort, it's as simple as that,'' coach Byron Scott said. "It's disappointing. That's why you yank guys out and bring other guys in, to see if they can get it going. They have to play with a lot more energy and a lot more effort than they did tonight.''
The Cavaliers do appear to play with more energy against the Heat, losing their three games this season by a combined nine points. James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, though, have combined to average 59.1 points in those games.
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